Here's a new initiative- outlaw waste
June 9, 2008 · Updated 3:14 PM
"At this week's League of Women Voters candidate and issues forums, we heard again the familiar siren song:Cut state taxes, increase services, and make up the difference through efficiencies.Sounds like a free lunch. And we could have it, we're told, if only the politicians and bureaucrats in office would get the message and run government better.Well, maybe. But we have a hunch that cutting government waste is easier said than done.Nobody - government or otherwise - ever spent a nickel on a program. Every penny the state spends goes directly or indirectly to a living, breathing person. Any spending cuts mean paying less money to those living, breathing people. And the money isn't waste to the person who's getting the check.We're more than a little concerned about the corrosive effect the free lunch argument has on public confidence in government.The candidates we elect who promise such bromides seldom deliver. And that, in turn, causes frustration among supporters, who probably believe that somehow the candidate, once elected, has gone over to the dark side and become part of the perceived problem.Our guess is that once the new firebrand really understands the issues, he or she learns that just maybe, the folks who went before them didn't really do such a bad job after all. Certainly there's a unique and pragmatic understanding that comes with actually being in office.These thoughts come to mind as we look at this year's menu of ballot initiatives and campaign promises. Both feature a huge ration of free lunch.Initiative impresario Tim Eyman tells us that we can cut our taxes still further, and pay for it with efficiencies. A number of the Republican candidates say the same thing.Meanwhile, nobody has come up with a plan to plug the revenues lost to Initiative 695. The GOP says it has identified $300 million in possible savings. While it's questionable whether those are achievable - since most involve paying people less for doing the same work - that's still only 40 percent of the $750 million annual budget hole created by repeal of the MVET. And nobody has identified where the additional savings may lie.One wag attending Monday's issues forum tossed out an interesting idea. Why not, he asked, simply pass an initiative outlawing fraud, waste and abuse in government?The more we thought about that, the better we liked the idea.Instead of being in such a flaming hurry to vote ourselves new goodies in the form of lower taxes or more services on the promise of saving money, let's find out first how much money we can really save through efficiencies. Then we get tax cuts or more service.Of course, we'd have to admit that there's no such thing as a free lunch. But we already know that. Don't we? "